April 5, 2002

Will They Hear Our Views?

By Amelia Komp Cerna

It is reassuring to know that doctors use scientific research findings to improve the health care they provide to us. The best research findings occur when the study participants are from a variety of cultural, social, educational, and economic groups. In fact, members of the well-educated white population are far more likely to volunteer to take part in research studies than members of any other group, including Hispanics. Although this produces important results, it raises the question of whether these discoveries can be used with confidence among members of our community since we tend not take part in research studies.

According to David Tarin, M.D., Ph.D, Director of the Rebecca and John Moores UCSD Cancer Center: “Sadly, the answer is no, such findings cannot be used with total confidence. It is critical that research studies include members of many different groups. Physicians need to know that a treatment has been shown to work in all groups.” He added: “If we can’t attract people from all communities to take part in studies, there is no way of knowing exactly how effective the treatment will be. For example, does a treatment work just as effectively among people who follow different cultural beliefs, behavior, and diets? We won’t know until we test it among many different groups.”

According to Jonathan Polikoff M.D., Ph.D, Director of Research Oncology at Kaiser Permanente, says: “It is equally important that physicians understand how new treatments might be affected by the values and expectations of families and communities from diverse cultures.” Chris Amling, M.D., Ph.D, a urologist at the San Diego Naval Medical Center, also supported this belief: “In our practice, we see patients from so many different backgrounds that we must constantly consider how patients’ cultural belief systems might influence their ability to follow the treatments we recommend.”

If researchers don’t have the benefit of gaining the Hispanic community’s point of view, how can we possibly expect them to create solutions that are sensitive to our Hispanic culture? It is our responsibility to make our voices heard so that better health care will be available to our loved ones today and for the generations that follow. By getting involved, you play a major role in helping to find new therapies that will benefit our Hispanic community and help members to live their lives to the fullest extent possible. There are many studies under way throughout the community in which we could get involved. Here is a brief description of the studies that need our Hispanic community’s representation. Call Georgia Robins Sadler, Ph.D, Associate Director for Community Outreach at the Moores UCSD Cancer Center, at 858-534-4611 or email her (gsadler@ucsd.edu) for more information about these and other studies. There is no cost to participate in research studies, and some studies offer small tokens of appreciation for participants’ help.


Fatigue is one of the most common complaints of women with breast cancer. Two studies are under way at Moores UCSD Cancer Center that address this issue. One study is evaluating whether the chemotherapy given to kill breast cancer cells interferes with their normal sleeping patterns and causes the resulting fatigue. For this study, women’s sleep patterns are evaluated before they start chemotherapy treatment and then during therapy. The study is done in the woman’s own home. Women with breast cancer who have not yet started their chemotherapy are eligible.

A second study is looking at ways to better manage breast cancer-related fatigue. For this study, participants tell the researchers what behavioral changes they have used to help them to cope with their fatigue, and then other women are independently testing their suggestions with one-to-one guidance from one of the study’s counselors. Women who are within three years since their diagnosis may be eligible.


For couples coping with prostate cancer, there is a study evaluating whether a new training program in problem-solving therapy that is offered in the couple’s home helps them to cope better with the emotional and physical results of the diagnosis. Patients continue with their regular cancer care while taking part in this supportive care program. For this study, the man must be within 18 months since his diagnosis and have a significant relationship with a partner who is also willing to take part in the evaluation of the new supportive care program.

The SELECT Study is designed to determine if the dietary supplements vitamin E and selenium, alone or in combination, help to prevent prostate cancer. Men who are 55 years of age and older and who do not have prostate cancer may be eligible to participate.

Calling the Moores UCSD Cancer Center is one way to learn about clinical trials that are open in San Diego County. There are also a variety of web sites and other resources to which the public can turn to for more information about cancer and clinical trials. Two other respected resources are: the American Cancer Society 619-299-4200; and the Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER.

Do your part by keeping informed. Empower yourself and spread your knowledge throughout our community. The ability and power to make a difference lies with each of us.

Amelia Komp Cerna is studying Psychology with a Health Care minor at the University of California, San Diego. She is a fourth year student working as a Health Journalism intern at the Moore UCSD Cancer Center. She is working with Dr. Georgia Robins Sadler, Director of the Cancer Center’s Community Outreach Program and Associate Professor of Surgery at UCSD’s School of Medicine.

Return to the Frontpage